FAQ about feral cats

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS about Feral Cats... *from the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project

What is a feral cat?

Feral cat is a term that has been used to describe a homeless cat that is undomesticated.  We consider “feral” to describe a particular behavior a cat expresses when it is not used to people or feels frightened.  It is virtually impossible to differentiate whether a frightened cat was
(1) born without human contact,
(2) formerly had human contact and became un-socialized from living on its own, or
(3) if it is simply frightened.  For our purposes we choose to call these cats free-roaming and use the term “feral” to describe a behavior a free roaming cat may convey.

What is a cat colony?

A cat colony is a group of free-roaming cats that live in close proximity to each other.  Colonies are often formed around shelter and a food source.

Where do free-roaming cats come from?

The source of free-roaming cats is endless.  Free-roaming cats come from shelters, pet stores, rescuers, hoarders, newspaper ads, etc.  All free roaming cats are the descendants of unaltered tame cats somewhere in their ancestry line.

What happens to feral-behaving cats in a shelter?

Sadly, each year shelters receive more cats than they are able to adopt.  As a result shelter employees must assess each cat to determine the probability of it being adopted.  Cats who express feral behavior are consider poor prospects and are euthanized.  In most cases it is impossible to determine if a cat is simply frightened in a shelter environment or if it has lived without humane interaction.  As a result, it is a sad fact that many frightened, tame cats are euthanized under the label of “feral."

What is the best thing I can do for free-roaming cats?

Consider implementing a Trap, Neuter Return (TNR) program.  By implementing a TNR program, free roaming cats can continue to live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population.  After a spay/neuter surgery, cats live healthier lives and many of the negative behavioral problems associated with unaltered cats will dissipate.

What is TNR?

Trap, Neuter, Return (TNR) is a program that allows free roaming cats to live out their lives without adding to the homeless cat population.  Cats are humanely trapped, often evaluated to ensure they are healthy enough to live a free-roaming lifestyle, vaccinated, spayed/neutered, ear tipped to identify them as being altered, and then released back to their familiar environment.  Often kittens and tame cats are placed with rescue organizations for adoption into homes.

Why do we ear tip cats?

Ear tipping identifies free-roaming cats that have been sterilized. Ear tipping is completely safe and it is performed under general anesthetic. Ear tipping provides immediate visual identification, which alerts animal control that a cat is part of a colony. It also helps colony caretakers track which cats have been trapped and altered, and identify newcomers who have not. Once a cat is trapped, the caretaker should look for an ear tip. If the cat has an ear tip it should be released immediately.

What is a colony caretaker?

A caretaker is someone who monitors a colony to insure any new cats that appear in the colony are altered.  The caretaker provides food and water for the cats, making their lives a little easier. Some caretakers feed an entire colony of free-roaming cats, and there are a number of organizations which provide for the care of free-roaming cats in a limited area, such as a college campus or beachfront.  

Q:  What is the most important thing a caretaker can do to help free-roaming cats?

A:   Spay or neuter the entire colony and continue to monitor the colony to ensure any new comers into the colony are also altered.

Do people bond with their free-roaming cats?

Absolutely!  People bond with the cats and the cats bond with their caretakers.  Many of the cats that are cared for by a caretaker know their feeding schedule and will wait at a designated area for their caretaker to bring them food and water.  Others may recognize the sound of their caretaker’s car and wait until they hear the familiar sound before appearing from their safe hiding spots.  Free-roaming cats tend to bond with their caretakers and may even allow them to get within a few feet of them.  Otherwise, they are fairly reclusive.

How do I trap a cat?

Cats can be trapped using a humane trap.  The trap has a door on one end, which can be lifted up and set in place with a small catch. The door is connected to a flat metal trip plate on the bottom of the trap. The trip plate is set far enough back in the trap so that the animal's tail won't get caught in the door when it slams shut. A small amount of aromatic food is placed in the back of the trap, past the trip plate. With kittens and very small cats, it is important to set the food all the way at the far end of the trap so the kitten or cat will be forced to put its full body weight on the trip plate, thus setting it off. The door will spring shut behind the cat as soon as a paw hits the trip plate.  These traps are typically brown in color here in AZ.

What can I do to make the cat more comfortable while in the trap?

Before trapping the cat, you can line the bottom of the trap with newspaper so that the cat is not walking on an exposed metal cage floor. As soon as you have trapped the cat, you should cover the trap with the towel or specially designed trap cover. This often has a calming effect on the animal.

Can a pregnant cat be spayed?

Yes. The closer she is to giving birth the more closely she should be monitored after surgery and should not be released back into her environment until the end of the day following her surgery.  The repeated cycle of giving birth can be much more difficult on a female cat than being altered while pregnant.

Is it safe to spay a lactating (nursing) cat?

Yes. The surgery will not affect her milk production. Nursing moms should be released back to their environment the day following surgery.

At what age can a cat start having kittens?

A lot depends on the length of the daylight period, time of the year, and family (genetic) tendencies of the cat. We recommend you spay/neuter cats by four months of age.